One of the foundational pursuits of many schools is that of providing high-quality education. Whether it is in business, life, or relationships – high quality comes with a cost; and the greatest cost is that of time. Anything of value takes time – but it’s not just about the quantity of time spent on any given endeavor, but rather the quality and focus of that time.
Each year the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes their Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators. Within the world of education, this publication is viewed by many as the authoritative source for accurate and relevant information on the state of education around the world. It provides data on the structure, finances, and performance of education systems in more than 40 countries.
The OECD Indicators are incredibly helpful and insightful not just for educators, but for students, parents, and all those who are investing finances and effort into education. Before I address the specific topic of the quality use of time and its’ relationship to the pursuit of high-quality education – take a look at just one of the many findings from this extensive report. These findings also provide compelling reasons as to why we should be concerned about how our limited resource of time is utilized.
What are the earnings advantages of education and literacy proficiency?
The most recent OECD report shows that adults who possess an academically oriented research degree (e.g. M.A. or Ph.D.) on average earn 70% more than those without a post high school degree, or those with an undergraduate degree (e.g. B.A.). [Note that those who complete a college or university degree, and go no further in their academic career, are at no greater advantage financially than those who simply hold a High School diploma. The earnings advantage is only seen with the completion of a graduate research degree beyond college or high school].
On average, an adult with a graduate research degree who performs at Level 4 or 5 in literacy proficiency, as measured by the Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC), earns about 45% more than a similarly educated adult who performs at or below Level 1 in literacy proficiency.
The two highest rated countries in the world where research degrees are valued and compensated to the greatest relative earnings level are in South America (i.e. Chile and Brazil). In other words it is of greater financial benefit in South America, more so than any other region of the world, to complete a graduate research degree.
For a student to pursue a graduate research degree they must first successfully complete an undergraduate degree, and for that to be possible they must first have the foundation of a high quality primary and secondary education. That is the pursuit of every school; to position our students so that they eventually and successfully not only matriculate to a college or university but also have the opportunity and ability to go beyond.
For example, at one of my previous schools, Primary students spent approximately 1,200 hours a year in compulsory education in pursuit of that excellence (i.e. 6 hours per day x 200 days). How did the investment of that time compare with the rest of the world? Take a look at the following results from the OECD report compared with the Economist Intelligence Unit: The Learning Curve report which rates the overall educational performance of countries throughout the world:
How much time do students spend in the classroom and how does that time compare with educational performance?
Globally, students on average receive 7,475 hours of compulsory instruction during their Primary and Secondary school years.
In Finland, where schools rank the highest in educational performance in the world, the compulsory instruction hours are just slightly over 6000 hours.
In the United States, which ranks 17th out of 40 countries in overall educational performance, students receive nearly 9,000 hours of compulsory instruction (i.e. 50% more than the Fins).
In Latin American countries, students receive on average just less than 10,000 hours of compulsory instruction.
How much time do teachers spend teaching and how does that time compare with educational performance?
Globally teachers teach an average of 783 hours per year (this is also averaging the differences between the Pre-Primary level, the Primary level, the Lower Secondary level, and the Upper Secondary level of education.
As an example, here are some of the comparisons of Upper Secondary teaching hours.
Argentina provides 1,400 teaching hours and rank 37th in educational performance.
Chile provides 1,100 teaching hours and rank 32nd in educational performance.
USA provides 1,100 teaching hours and rank 14th in educational performance.
United Kingdom provides 600 teaching hours and rank 6th in educational performance.
Japan provides 500 teaching hours and rank 4th in educational performance.
Finland provides 550 teaching hours and rank 1st in educational performance.
What seems to be glaringly apparent in the above numbers is that the amount of teaching time, and the amount of time a student spends in compulsory hours of education, appears to be only connected to the level of educational performance in a negative way. The schools that spend the least amount of time in compulsory hours of “seat-time” for students, and the least amount of time in actual teaching hours, are the schools with the highest levels of educational performance. How can this be? We all know that we all only have 24 hours in a day.
So what is it that the highest performing schools are doing with these same hours if they are not spending them on student contact teaching hours? The answer is? Professional development of teachers!
The greater the quality and time dedicated to the professional development of teachers – the greater the quality of the instruction for students. Note these findings quoted in the OECD report:
“Several studies correlate sustained professional development for teachers with significant learning gains for students (Yoon et al., 2007).”
“Research shows that, in addition to formal workshops, mentoring by veteran teachers can significantly improve the quality of instruction (Rockoff, 2008).”
“High-quality professional development also has a significant impact on teacher retention (Allensworth, Ponisciak and Mazzeo, 2009).”
Those schools which are producing the highest levels of educational performance around the world are also the same schools that are investing highly in the continual professional development of their teachers. For example, In Japan (which ranks #4 in the world in educational performance) even experienced teachers who have been teaching for years have a requirement of completing an extensive professional development program. The program includes an average of 23 hours of professional development training annually for Primary and Secondary teachers.
But it’s not just time for professional development that equates to a greater level of excellence in the educational services provided to students and families. In a recent Edutopia blog entitled, Less is More: The Value of a Teacher’s Time, the author argues that “…teachers do much better by having less classes, less students, and more time…” The value and quality of the educational service to the students and their families is increased by providing more time for activities such as:
Conversations with students (and their parents) about academic progress.
Working with counselors to better support students’ social-emotional development.
Peer collaboration focused on mastering and implementing research-based best pedagogical practices.
Detailed, authentic, and purposeful observation conversations between teachers and their supervisors.
Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) where teachers are closely looking at student work and data together in order to determine the best strategies and interventions to increase levels of individual student achievement.
All of these vital elements of a quality education take time outside of the formal classroom.
In another recent article featured in The Atlantic entitled, Building a Better School Day, policy research associate, Matthew Frizzell identifies a key finding that “An hour of professional development seems to be almost as helpful to teachers, and in some cases more helpful than an hour in the classroom.”
The National Staff Development Council released a report, Professional Learning in the Learning Profession that identifies that US schools are “far behind in providing teachers with opportunities to participate in extended learning opportunities and productive collaborative communities.”
If our commitment to our pursuit of providing high-quality education is genuine, then that commitment must be seen through an intentional and meaningful investment in the development of our teachers.
There has been much written on the subject of redesigning how and when teacher professional development occurs – yet for many schools little has been done in moving forward to address this subject. That is most likely due to the fact that to fully address this need there must also be a fundamental shift in how we think about and view the role of the teacher.
We must do a paradigm shift in how we view the essential functions of the teacher’s job and be agents of changing that view within our communities. Traditionally we have viewed the face-time teachers have with students as the most critical and essential part of their work, but those school systems that are excelling in the world would disagree. They would argue that the most critical and essential elements of a teacher’s core responsibilities are that of:
- continual professional development,
- implementation of research-based best practices, along with
- collaborative reflection on those practices.
We must consider how to rebuild the way we organize, manage, and support the teacher’s daily workday in order to support those essential elements.
Cathy J. Cook, Mathematics Education and Professional Development Specialist for the Midwest Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education, and Carole Fine, Director of Professional Development, both for the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory in Oak Brook, Illinois, have conducted research and written on this topic over the years, and recommendations which they made for the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (now a part of the American Institutes for Research), are more valid than ever. Among the goals to which they encouraged school communities to aspire, they included the following:
Move away from past models of professional development (where it took place only on in-service days, weekends, or during the summer) to new models that embed professional development into the daily lives of teachers.
Restructure teachers’ work to create the mental space necessary for ongoing professional development.
Develop strategies for informing and convincing the public and policymakers that professional development not only is critical but also is as much a part of teachers’ work as instruction.
So, does more professional development time for teachers and less seat-time for students, equal higher quality education? The research does seem to suggest this conclusion. Regardless, we should endeavor to provide work environments where teachers are supported with schedules, funding, and opportunities to continually pursue what it means to be a high quality and trusted educator.
© Toby A. Travis, Ed.D. All Rights Reserved